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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 June, 2003, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Child sickness 'soars' in Iraq
Iraqi children look at British soldier in Basra
Children in Basra have been hit particularly badly
The number of children in Iraq suffering from diarrhoea and related diseases appears to have risen dramatically in the past year, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said on Sunday.

The incidence of diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid was 2.5 times higher this May than for the same month last year, said Unicef spokesman Geoffrey Keele, quoting from a limited survey.

The World Food Programme said that, before the US-led invasion, one-million Iraqi children had been malnourished as a result of diarrhoea.

But the war and the collapse of Iraq's infrastructure had worsened the health hazards, disrupting clean water supplies, damaging sewage systems and halting rubbish collections.

The WFP has begun distributing food rations across Iraq but it warns that food is not enough if water supplies remain contaminated.

Sewage threat

The Unicef survey was limited in scope and complete figures were unavailable due to the breakdown in the health system during the war, the organisation's spokesman said.

Mr Keele said that 70% of child deaths before the war this spring had been the result of diarrhoea or respiratory infections.

Unicef's figures meant that 72% of the children it had surveyed had had diarrhoea, Mr Keele said, pointing out that the condition was a killer in Iraq.

Dysentery and typhoid, spread through contaminated water and food, were "becoming a real problem for children", he said.

Cholera was also on the rise with 66 confirmed cases in the southern city of Basra alone, most of them among small children. Three people had died there of the disease.

Unicef was working to provide treatment to health centres during the high-risk summer months, he said, but Iraq's "poor hygiene" remained a major threat.

"There are 500 breaks in Baghdad's water system alone that lead to contamination with sewage," Mr Keele said.

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